Near-fingerboard bowing: is it necessary?

Edited: December 7, 2017, 11:25 PM · Hello all, I am an intermediate player who is struggling with bowing technique nowadays. In terms of Simon Flesch’s subdivision of soundpoints, from 1(near the bridge) to 5(near the fingerboard), I play quite well on the points 1-3, but not on 4 and 5. The bow bounds.

Yes, I know that near-fingerboard bowing is necessary to improve my violin skills, but it doesn’t come home to me. Near-fingerboard bowing is not used with high position notes, nor with harmonics, etc.

To disregard my excuses, can you guys tell me its importance, or some examples where near-fingerboard bowing is used?
(Edit: and TIPS please!!)

Replies (22)

Edited: December 7, 2017, 11:19 PM · Every single time you see 'sul tasto' in a score, or want an airy light sound. It's one of the three broad directions that composers use to tell you where to put the bow. The other two are ponticello (near the bridge) and normale (in the middle/normal spot)
Edited: December 8, 2017, 4:35 AM · Thanks Michael, but I’ve hardly seen those signs because I don’t play in an orchestra anymore. (I played when I was young, but I can’t remember.)

Actually the only problem is that whenever I play E on A string with the full bow (‘sul tasto’) with any finger, the bow bounds slightly, not firmly attached. That point looks like under a curse.

December 8, 2017, 5:37 AM · Hi Cat,

The idea of lanes is a useful guideline, but ultimately limiting. As you know all the lanes shrink and shift toward the bridge as you play higher positions, and vice versa. But you also have to adjust to the string you're playing on (lanes shift toward the fingerboard the thicker the string, and toward the bridge the thinner the string in general--but sometimes the A string can feel weaker than the E, depending on the brand and your fiddle.) I like to think of sound point in terms of the feel of the string, training your bow hand to feel the resistance of the string through the hairs of the bow. You can get a better feel for this by practicing 'pinch and ride.' Choose a sound point on a string. Pinch ever so slightly (there are several ways to do this, but you can follow Fischer's method,) and bend the string sideways, this way and that, without moving the bow. Gradually release the pinch until you can get one 'click' of sound in both directions. Then, release and float the bow for a short length, gradually increasing the length of bow after the pinch. Practice this at all parts of the bow, both down and up bows, on all strings. You'll notice that how much you have to pinch will vary according to the stopped length of the string, the thickness of the string, and of course the lane you're in. This exercise will help you feel the resistance of the string according to those variables. Then practice getting a clean edge to the start of your sound, and ride the bow. From there you can practice getting a softer and softer articulation to the start of the bow stroke. Experiment also with the speed and density of the ride, and you'll develop a coordinated bow arm/hand which will allow a whole palette of sounds and articulations. Of course there are instructions to follow in certain music (the quartet piece I'm playing right now has molto sul tasto, sul tasto, ord, 1/4 sul ponticello, 1/2 sul pont, 3/4 sul pont, sul pont, molto sul pont!) but ultimately it's about increasing your palette of colours.

December 8, 2017, 7:09 AM · One of my violins has a 2-octave fingerboard instead of the usual 2-1/2, so that makes the sound points difficult to determine unless I define them by the width of the bow hairs, which has always worked.

Incidentally, an advantage of the 2-octave fingerboard is that there is virtually no buildup of rosin dust on it.

Jeewon, I sometimes wonder if some modern composers live in a world of their own!

Edited: December 8, 2017, 7:31 AM · They are a unique breed indeed Trevor! The composer is a young award winner who got a grant for us to record her quartet. The way I understand it, composers are judged by composers for such things and so there's a tendency to write for other composers. So on paper they try to make it look complex to impress. Not only do we have to follow those sound point instructions, but we have to do them in different dynamics, ranging from pppp to mf! So we're constantly doing the complete opposite of natural, and having to push the envelope of really light playing way over the fingerboard and bridge, and sudden, extreme lane changes (e.g. ord. accented mf to subito molto sul pont. in ppp.) It was hellish to learn, but I have to say we're starting to make a distinction between sul pont in pp and molto sul pont in ppp and I think I have more bow control for it, not that the listener could ever discern all the minute details. Nonetheless there is an overall effect. For your morning listening pleasure:

Oh yeah, and we also have a lot of 'white noise' sections, but not in complex passages. But at least it's not Lachenmann! Our piece at least ends on a plaintive folk song, from which all the preceding fragments and noise and effects are drawn.

Edited: December 8, 2017, 8:15 AM · And for Cat...

December 8, 2017, 8:33 AM · Hi Jeewon,
Your first reply seems to be very helpful, but your second reply made me little bit confused, especially the Lachenmann clip! And if I play like Lina Bahn of the first clip, I’ll be killed by my ex-violin teacher lol I’m sure of it. But finally your last reply relieved me. I can’t get what is good sound sul tasto yet, but soon I’ll arrive at it, I hope, by practicing pinch and ride. Thank you so much.
December 8, 2017, 8:53 AM · You're welcome Cat! And sorry, I got a little carried away in reply to Trevor, procrastinating getting started practicing my piece ;)

Right after I posted it I thought I'd better come up with a better example for you.

December 8, 2017, 9:04 AM · Impressive performance by Lina Bahn. In the score of that piece it says to perform it in a place where there are ladders and other stage gear around (in Italian of course), so she's getting it exactly right.
December 8, 2017, 9:09 AM · un luogo molto ingombra
December 8, 2017, 9:42 AM · "it's about increasing your palette of colours."

Yep. You're not in orchestra but you're going to be working on solo pieces and the like. Don't you want to sound your best? Make people cry and laugh or be inspired and raise their outlook of the world?

Playing the different lanes is like bow distribution. Many teachers have said this to their students: you paid for your entire bow, why not use it all?

"Actually the only problem is that whenever I play E on A string with the full bow (‘sul tasto’) with any finger, the bow bounds slightly, not firmly attached. That point looks like under a curse."

Seems kind of odd. Maybe someone will make a stab at disentangling the complex topic of bow control.

December 8, 2017, 9:43 AM · Jeewon, your composer didn't think of one other lane change - that's the one on the wrong side of the bridge! Can happen accidentally at all levels of violinistic achievement, and you hope the audience didn't notice; but it wouldn't surprise me if that bowing feature has been asked for in some modern compositions.

Your composer apparently didn't specify the type of vibrato in great detail (did she?) - now there's splendid scope for ringing the changes.

Edited: December 8, 2017, 10:39 AM · Thanks Jeewon! Our breakfast time has never been so riveting! I go to concerts of new music frequently but Lachenmann is quite exceptional. Going to such concerts for me is often like a lay person going to composer conferences. It does open one's ears and mind.
Edited: December 8, 2017, 11:17 AM · And not only on the other side of the bridge, but underneath your strings too. My 11-year-old daughter discovered this on her cello that she can play the C and A strings at the same time. I then realized this technique can be used on the violin to play two-octave double stops -- fingered! (A and A, for example, fingered 1 and 3). Won't be long before someone puts that into their concerto, and from there it will go into the Flesch Scales and conservatory auditions. Only it will have to be sautille too.
December 8, 2017, 12:14 PM · And the poor cello! I hope it was not an expensive one. I wouldn't try it on my Topa for sure.
Edited: December 8, 2017, 2:43 PM · Trevor, check out the Lachenmann, it has lots of behind the bridge playing (e.g. 1:23) I played a chamber piece of his years ago with him conducting (intense guy) and he really wanted us to dig into the strings behind the bridge, at which point you get this disturbing rattling. And Yixi, it was very harsh on the instruments. Some of the players got cheap instruments, which I should've done. There was lots of C-bout playing, well into fff, and I actually wore down some wood on my viola, at which point I started covering the bouts with post it notes. It was a nightmare to learn and perform in 4 rehearsals. Thankfully my current composer, a Newfoundlander, Bekah Simms, is into whispers and rustling more than rattles, scrapes and screaming.

Edit: there's little opportunity for vibrato in the piece, though there are brief moments where we add a little. When we get to the folk tune at the end, we chose to go senza vib. Seemed more appropriate for the folksy feel.

December 8, 2017, 6:14 PM · I should remark all your beautiful words:

"The idea of lanes is a useful guideline, but ultimately limiting." <-Actually it made me like ... enlightened!
"it's about increasing your palette of colours."
"Going to such [contemporary] concerts for me is often like a lay person going to composer conferences."

Thank you guys, even to my lame question, you added some quality.

Edited: December 9, 2017, 7:14 AM · Not a lame question at all! I think playing well over the fingerboard is a very advanced and difficult skill, so don't worry about it too much if you can't get it immediately. In orchestra, you can just lighten up and kind of hide in the section. You don't have to worry so much about the tone, as long as you don't stick out. In solo and chamber music, you really have to make it sing, which is some of the hardest stuff to do on violin, and that much harder sul tasto.

It's difficult because you have to track the string while counterbalancing and reducing the weight of the bow/arm. The counterbalancing happens within the hand as you approach the frog, with a vertical pivot in the fingers. The reduction of weight happens within the arm as you suspend the whole arm from the shoulder socket, and suspend the bow from the fingers. If your bow starts to bounce, it's likely your hairs are too flat. Try tilting the bow onto the edge of the hair, especially where it's most bouncy (you can flatten out toward the tip.) Remember that the string itself is more bouncy over the fingerboard and you're taking away all leverage within the fingers, (leverage is what we use to suppress the bounce of the stick,) so the bow will just do what it's designed to do. Playing with very little hair makes the bow less bouncy, and also you can suspend the bow in the finger pads, which helps the bow track the string (like the needle on the arm of a record player.) I'll be a bit busy over the next couple of days, but will try to describe in more detail later. In the meantime, here's some exquisite sul tasto playing from Mr. Tetzlaff:

Edited: December 11, 2017, 8:48 AM · I attended a chamber recital today and I saw a violinist -- an excellent professional playing a priceless Italian antique -- bowing in every "lane" from right at the bridge to an inch over the fingerboard. You can be sure it was deliberate. He got so many beautiful colors, incredible violin artistry.
December 11, 2017, 2:42 AM · that Tetzlaff Mendelssohn is quite something!
December 11, 2017, 8:49 AM · Yeah but as much as I like Tetzlaff, I don't think I'd pay to watch him play from a quarter-mile away. You'd need a telescope just to see his violin.
December 11, 2017, 1:38 PM · Well, he was certainly bobbing around enough for you to see something at that distance!

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